Review by Sean Boelman
Mel Brooks’s History of the World: Part I was never intended to have a sequel, but over forty years later, we are getting more historical comedy skits from the mind of one of the greatest living comedic geniuses. Although mileage may vary with History of the World: Part II, there’s plenty of gut-busting laughs to be found, even if a few of its skits don’t turn out quite as well as one would hope.
Like its film predecessor, this series presents skits that offer an alternative perspective on history through the hilarious and idiosyncratic lens of the legendary Mel Brooks. The series format is certainly conducive to Brooks’s skit comedy like this, even if it does lead to some moderately long stretches that don’t have quite enough laughs.
The ensemble of the series is absolutely star-studded with some of the greatest comedians working today. Some of the actors who have several roles across different skits include Ike Barinholtz and Nick Kroll, and they are both excellent. However, many of the guest stars can steal the show, including Ronny Chieng, Johnny Knoxville, and Jay Ellis.
Ultimately, some of the skits do fall flat in the series — more so than usual for Brooks. However, when the segments are good, they are *extremely* good in a way that only Brooks’s work could be. The first episode is the weakest of the show, as it is largely the set-up for the recurring skits, but once it finds its rhythm, it becomes extremely effective.
What is perhaps most surprising about this show is that it often struggles with the balance between satire and goofiness, which is something that Brooks has never had an issue with. Many of the skits are either really insightful and perceptive, or really fun and absurd, but only a few ever manage to capture the perfect balance between both.
Of course, one of the strongest aspects of Mel Brooks’s comedy are his original songs, and this show has plenty of them. There’s one satirical song in the “Civil War” skit that is one of the funniest comedy songs that has been released in years. And one skit, “The Last Supper Sessions,” provides plenty of opportunities for great new songs.
The absolute highlight of the series is a recurring sketch called “Shirley!” in which Wanda Sykes plays a ‘70s sitcom version of Black congresswoman Shirley Chisholm. In addition to being one of the most consistently funny sketches in the show — and being a perfect homage to classic sitcoms — this bit shines thanks to Sykes’s hilarious and endearing, perhaps even Emmy-worthy performance.
There are some weak spots in History of the World: Part II, but there are far more hits than misses, and the hits are so good that this is still a great series despite its shortcomings. Even this many years into his career, Brooks still has it and his comedy is still as funny as ever.
History of the World: Part II streams on Hulu beginning March 6 as a four-night event. All eight episodes reviewed.